Greetings pop-pickers, the new chart is out

The Guardian league tables for 2019 are out, reach for the bottle. Is it champagne or gin for Kingston? After a few years of shifting up and down a few places, KU finds itself 23 places higher and the SMT has reached for the superlatives. Staffspace informs us that we’ve leaped and soared — appropriate tabloidese perhaps as Journalism is in the top 10 (slipped two places … ssshhhh). Art and Fashion, long-standing stalwarts of Kingston, remain high in the tables, but no mention that both have also slipped a few places since last year.

No surprises the SMT are wringing what they can from the 2019 tables, desperate as its members are to justify their academic loutishness. Let’s give credit where it’s due, but is the reason for this upward shift down to big improvements, or changes to the way universities are measured? Aside from Pharmacy, Architecture and Sport, which other courses have ‘soared’ in the table? What about some of the other departments that have had the management treatment? Beleaguered and threatened History is down 23. Geography, subject last year to some serious weeding, has dropped 25. Music, a department that’s suffered more than most, is down a relatively modest 7 places. So much for refreshing Music by sacking a lot of good staff and wheeling in the popsters. English has plunged (how’s that for a headline?) 26 places. Alas, poor English! I worked for them, Horatio.

What about elsewhere in the University? Business, recently freed from the yoke of the joke from Holland, unplaced in 2018, has vanished from the tables altogether. Maths, closure imminent, has limped up two places. No reprieve likely there. Computing, which will swallow the leftovers of Maths, has managed a 16-place rise though gets no mention from the bosses. Well, Computing is a bit boring. While we’re in SEC, Bioscience has tumbled 12 positions. Someone call a doctor. Talking of which, how has Health fared, the apple-a-day of the VC’s eye? Oh rose apple, thou art sick: down from 19 to 48, another plunge — 29 places! This figure outdoes Architectures 27 upward propulsion, yet mysteriously goes unmentioned in the SMT spiel. Clearly some of the leaping has been off the cliff.

All this snakes and (handful of) ladders makes you wonder how Kingston has improved in the overall tables. There is a lot of scope for fiddling in the Guardian figures — student-staff ratio, entry tariff, continuation …  Continuation? Yes, that’s one of the new metrics that is supposed to measure the numbers of students who finish their degrees. Now here’s the interesting bit. The methodology and compilation comes from an outfit called Intelligent Metrix run by Matt Hiely-Rayted, wearer of seam-busting suits who just happens to be Head of Planning at Kingston. Could be the planning is planning KU’s way up the league tables. He has some form in fashioning favourable statistics. His value-added thing, which he calls a ‘sophisticated methodology’ in the Guardian although is anything but, was manipulated by Nona McDuffer to ‘prove’ the BME gap has narrowed. One has to wonder why Matt Hiely-Remunerated is allowed to hold a job at Kingston while running his own company, especially when one recalls how moonlighting academics were shoved out by Weinberg, now the Ofsted Rat. Two-jobs Matt should spend some of that cash on suits that fit.

There is one good change to the measures. The ridiculous NSS question that asked whether teaching staff are enthusiastic has been dropped. That was always like asking whether your lecturer is good-looking or well-dressed. Good riddance to that. Yet the teaching scores for Kingston have not improved that much, not enough to justify the change in table position. The main improvements are to the student-staff ratio and the entry tariff. Both are curious. With the reduction in numbers of staff, only the drop in student entrants explains the first: a shrinking Kingston is an improving Kingston. And the entry tariff has been falling in many subjects to recruit more students as applications decline. Has Metrix Matt pulled a statistical fast one?

Overall one has to question the value of these tables, even more this year with the changes. An article in Research Professional quotes an Imperial prof: ‘ “Given the change in methodology this year… any large shifts in position shouldn’t be given any credence,” Curry said.’ Maybe Kingston’s jump in the table, artificial though it may be, will help our struggling university boost recruitment and so protect the staff still here, but Spier’s staffspace bluster is fooling none of us.

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